Early Learning Clothing Policies

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Implementing clear and concise clothing policies helps early childhood programs support playful learning, keep children safe, and reduce staff stress. In my experience, programs often lack clarity around clothing policies. That lead to confusion for kids, parents, and staff. Taking the time to spell out and explain your expectations makes life easier for everyone involved–there tend to be fewer clothing-based problems. And when problems do arise, your policy lays out a clear path on how to respond.

Instead of offering up specific policy examples or suggestions, the rest of this post is mostly going to consist of questions to consider when creating your program’s clothing policies. There’s no single right right way of doing things when it comes to such policies, but there are a number of issues most programs will want to address.

Here are some things to consider when creating such policies:

  • Play. Does your clothing policy clearly explain that the work of children is play and that this work makes certain demands on clothing? Do you expect the children attending your program to dress for play? Does your policy request that the clothing children wear to the program allow them to move freely and get messy? Does it explain that some types of clothing should be avoided because they can increase the likelihood of injury? How do you inform parents about these expectations? How do you address their questions and concerns? (I’ve addressed this topic in another post and created a shareable PDF on dressing for play.)
  • Self-Expression. Do your clothing policies allow children to express themselves? Or do you have a basic uniform kid’s are expected to wear? Is it OK to arrive in your pajamas or a superhero costume? Is clothing tied to movies, cartoon characters, and other media welcome? Can kids wear rings, bracelets, necklaces, and other jewelry/accents? Are tutus and feather boas welcome throughout the program or are there certain places/activities such items should be avoided?
  • Family Culture. How do you balance your program’s clothing expectations with family culture? Do you clearly explain your reasoning and discuss areas where there may be friction between family culture and program expectations? Are you willing to collaborate with families when a cultural norm may differ from your program’s standard practice? (I’ll dig deeper into this topic in a future post.)
  • Costume Changes. Do kids get to change clothes throughout the day? When is it OK and when is it not allowed? Where should kids store clothing items they are not wearing? Where do lost socks await reunion with the toes they’re supposed to cover? Where should kids change clothes? What gets done with dirty clothing?
  • Backup Stuff. What extras should parents bring? Where do they get stored? How does dirty stuff get home? How do you make sure items go home with the correct child? How do parents know when to bring fresh backup gear?
  • Loaners. Do you have loaner clothing available for emergencies? If a child wears a loaner item home does it need to come back to the program? If so, should it be washed? Is there a limit to how many times a child will be loaned items? Where are loaner items stored? Is there a process for check out loaner items so they can be tracked?

Whether you’re creating clothing policies for the first time, or updating existing policies, it’s my hope that the above questions spark thinking and conversations. If you have more things that should be considered, pop them in the comments section.

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